VIEW FROM THE GALLERY BY MAHMUD JEGA
The novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s letter of last week, pleading with US President Joseph Biden not to recognize February’s presidential election in Nigeria because the candidate she supported did not win, was sent to the wrong address. Instead of addressing it to Mr. Joseph Biden at the White House in Washington D.C, she should have addressed it to Mr. Donald J. Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, where her election denial story will receive warm reception from a fellow election result denier.
Selling the story of an alleged fraudulent election to Mr. Biden is like selling ice to an Inuit. If Chimamanda’s letter manages to slip through the strict White House vetting system and land in the Oval Office, which is doubtful, it will quickly remind President Biden of his own election in November 2020. His defeated opponent and his supporters repeated the word “fraud” so many times, without a shred of evidence, that it is by now the most detested word in Biden’s ears. He will think, “This Madam must be a Nigerian Trump.”
While most of the world thought America’s election was textbook perfect, Donald Trump tried at every stage to torpedo it, up to and including sending a mob to the Capitol to try to stop Vice President Mike Pence from doing the constitutionally routine certification of Electoral College results. The novelist’s letter to Biden is a work of fiction, similar to the January 6 mob’s claims.
President Biden knows the fraudulent use of the word “fraud” better than most people. No American court has found evidence of fraud in his 2020 election and all major American media houses, except Fox, have said not a shred of evidence exists. Yet, a Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll last November found that 40% of all Americans and 61% of Republicans still believe that Trump won and Biden stole the election. What do you do to that kind of mindset? That’s in the US; what do you expect in a Third World country with much less literacy, much higher levels of poverty, almost no ideological or policy education in political contests, and much higher levels of primordial sentiment in political choices?
Chimamanda wants Biden to believe her account of what happened in the Nigerian election. To do so, she wants the US President to ignore whatever he might have heard from his large Embassy in Abuja, the large US Consulate in Lagos, numerous foreign observer missions including from his own Democratic Party and the rival Republican Party, not to mention the large CIA Station in Nigeria.
The US State Department long ago congratulated President-elect Bola Tinubu on his election victory. Foggy Bottom is not known to do things carelessly, for the most part. It must have evaluated all the reports available to it and concluded that, despite some unavoidable hiccups, Nigeria’s election was credible. Her letter mentioned rumours she heard of some logistic hitches, violence and intimidation. Were those so widespread that they made the election incredible? Given our level of socio-economic development, who expects us to have absolutely hitch-free polls anytime in this generation?
Chimamanda made much of the failure to instantly upload results on IReV. Whether or not you believe INEC’s explanation for why this happened, it was subsequently done. It is now up to any serious political party and candidate to compare the results on IReV with those brought by its agents at the polling stations, ward, local government and state collation offices for any discrepancies. Chimamanda said in her mis-addressed letter that discrepancies, alterations and cancellations have since been detected. Where? Why are the opposition parties inside the country not saying so, and it is only her, far away from these shores, that is making this claim?
If indeed anyone detects discrepancies, he should take it to election tribunals, not the White House. President Biden has no power under the Electoral Act to ratify or refuse to ratify Nigerian elections, any more than Vice President Mike Pence had power not to ratify Biden’s own election in 2020. Whether or not Biden congratulates Tinubu, that will not stop his swearing-in on May 29, unless our courts say otherwise. Chimamanda was 6 years old in 1983 so she will not remember that in her native old Anambra State, the Supreme Court stopped the swearing in of Governor C.C. Onoh on October 1, until it disposed of Jim Nwobodo’s election petition a week later. Supreme Court did the same in Ondo State that year.
At least Chimamanda admitted that she supported the Labour Party candidate Peter Obi, who finished third in the election. She said “opinion polls” predicted his win. She did not add that those “polls” were concocted by Obidient chieftains and were sprung on Nigerians as a preemptive political strategy to lay the ground for trouble in the event of defeat. I have not seen the Political Affairs Office of US Embassy’s report to the State Department, but since it is a keen observer of Nigerian events, it must have pointed out that Obi had almost no political presence in nearly half of the country.
Americans themselves have been holding presidential elections since the 18th century. No one ever got elected president when he did not have effective campaign offices in half of their country. The best showing made by what they call “third party candidates” was by George Wallace in 1968, John Anderson in 1980 and by Texas billionaire Ross Perot in 1996, 13.5%, 6.6% and 19% respectively. With all America’s vaunted sophistication, no third-party candidate ever got elected President in 234 years. Yet, Chimamanda’s candidate seized control of a non-descript party in Nigeria with a few months to the election, unrolled an agenda that is ideologically opposite of Labour Party’s program, have no party structures or even candidates in half of the states, and still claim that he won the election because “opinion polls” predicted it? US Embassy must have noticed that LP virtually fizzled out of the landscape in governorship elections three weeks later.
Chimamanda said the whole country was mute when the election result was declared. I don’t know which part of the country she was at when the results were declared. Where I was, I certainly saw wild celebration.